The market size for the robotics industry has exploded in recent years, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Sources report a rising demand for robotics in several major industries, from semiconductors to pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, and more.
The wide range of industry use cases means that robotic parts must be flexible and adaptable in a variety of scenarios. More specifically, it’s crucial to ensure that the robot is composed of the appropriate components for the space in which it will be working and the scope of its related tasks.
There’s one particular part of the robot that will be directly responsible for interacting with the work area. Choosing the right end-of-arm tooling, or robot gripper, is an essential step in crafting efficient and durable robotic units.
This article will present an overview of robot grippers, as well as their various types and applications. It will also assist you in determining how to select the most appropriate robot cables for your chosen gripper solution.
What are robot grippers?
Robot grippers are the components at the end of a robotic arm that allow the robot to grasp, hold, and otherwise manipulate and interact with objects in the working area. Robot grippers are one of many end-of-arm tooling mechanisms available for robotic units; others include sensors, cups, tool changes, and more.
However, robot grippers are rather unique among the array of end-of-arm tooling options, as they provide the robot with the dexterity it needs to function similarly to the human hand. This is especially true for grippers that have fingers or claws and can handle small, delicate electrical components.
In general, grippers enhance the robot’s gross and fine motor skills, allowing it to perform various functions such as stacking, packing, palletizing, and pick-and-place motions. They are often attached to the ends of collaborative industrial robot arms in order to facilitate the automation of these and other processes.
The cobot arm is what controls the actions of the robot gripper. To ensure they can work together most effectively, manufacturers must first take great care to examine the different types of robot grippers that are available. The choice between a pneumatic, hydraulic, electric, or vacuum gripper depends heavily on what material handling application the robot will be undertaking. Moreover, manufacturers must also select the appropriate electric cables to link the gripper and arm together. This fosters durability, longevity, speed, and efficiency.
The next several sections will cover the various different types of robot grippers that manufacturers can choose from. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the four types you’ll see here reflect some of the major categorical divisions encountered in industry.
Vacuum Robot Grippers
The first type of robot gripper to be covered here is known as a vacuum gripper. This form of end-of-arm tooling creates a vacuum between the gripper and the surface of the contacted object. The change in atmospheric pressure creates suction between the gripper material and the object’s surface, allowing the robot to firmly grasp and move, transport, or otherwise manipulate the desired object.
The suction created by vacuum grippers is particularly useful when moving and lifting large or heavy items, especially when the pump is driven by compressed air.
Vacuum grippers can be made out of a variety of materials, including rubber, polyurethane, or foam. Their applications are many and varied, ranging from palletizing to packaging and more, though they are particularly used in the manufacturing industry.
Pneumatic Robot Grippers
The second type of robot gripper to be covered in this article is known as a pneumatic gripper. This form of end-of-arm tooling runs on compressed air and features “fingers” or “jaws.” The fingers and jaws are operated via the help of a piston, which opens and closes the components so the gripper can grasp and release various objects.
Pneumatic grippers that use fingers are most commonly found in 2- or 3-finger designs, though other configurations are possible. They may also come in one of several different types. For example, angular pneumatic grippers open at an angle around the target object, while parallel grippers open directly apart, on a plane that’s parallel to the object’s surface. Other jaw styles include chisel, flange, and shovel types.
Pneumatic grippers are compact, lightweight, and they command a range of jaw styles (some angular grippers open at an angle of up to 180°). Their flexibility and ease-of-use make them a popular choice for those in the manufacturing industry.
Hydraulic Robot Grippers
The third type of gripper considered in this article is the hydraulic gripper. As their namesake suggests, these grippers are powered by hydraulic fluid, a mineral-based liquid that’s responsible for the transfer of energy in heavy-duty machinery.
Because of the hydraulic fluid that powers these components, hydraulic grippers have an immense amount of gripping power, with some estimates clocking in at up to 2000psi. They can apply serious force, so they’re preferred over pneumatic grippers when working with large, heavy items.
If a robot already has a hydraulic power source built in, then a hydraulic gripper may be an effective choice of end-of-arm tooling.
Electric Robot Grippers
The fourth and final type of robot gripper to be considered in this article is the electric gripper. These grippers have gripping mechanisms that are operated by an electric motor. Oftentimes, they’re also connected to a sensor. As a result, the operator has the utmost control over every aspect of the robot’s grip, from force to speed and more.
The information processing and sensing capabilities of the electric gripper make it a popular tool of choice for manufacturers in industrial settings. They boast a myriad of advantages over some of the other types of robot grippers:
- Electric grippers are programmable, meaning that the amount of force (as well as the stroke and speed) can be determined by the operator.
- The addition of a sensor means electric grippers can be configured to work with a diversity of materials.
Because of their speed, flexibility, programming, and sensing capabilities, electric robot grippers are increasingly becoming the go-to end-of-arm tool of choice for manufacturers in industrial settings.
Once again, manufacturer Robotiq stands out as an exemplary supplier of robot grippers. One of their emblematic offerings is the Hand-E electric robot gripper. This gripper is said to be built for collaborative robots. Its programming capabilities lead to high accuracy and excellent performance on tasks that require the utmost precision. The scaled design makes it an ideal choice for cobots working in harsh industrial environments.
Not only that, but with Hand-E, manufacturers can get their cobots up and running in record time. Thanks to a touch-sensitive software interface and the inclusion of a proprietary Plug & Play gripper kit, those at all stages of the manufacturing process will find the Hand-E electric gripper easy to use and integrate into their workflows.
What cables should be used?
Manufacturers and robotics professionals can spend countless hours selecting the right cobot and the best end-of-arm tooling solution to pair with it. However, they may not spend nearly as much time choosing the best cables to tie the two together.
Unfortunately, cable selection tends to come as an afterthought when compared to end-of-arm tooling. And yet, it is the flexibility and durability of the robot cables that will literally make or break the time it takes for a robotic unit to fail.
This is particularly the case when electric grippers are under consideration. Electric grippers are often coupled with sensors that transmit vital information about grip force through electrical cables. This is what allows the gripper to handle objects without damaging them. As such, choosing the right electrical cable is crucial when it comes to the precise handling of sensitive materials.
Robotics manufacturers must pay special attention to the electric cables that are chosen for each electric gripper. The right cables must bend and twist in such a way that the gripper can deliver a wide range of flexible motion. They must facilitate high-speed data transmission between the sensor, gripper, and the robot arm. They should also be able to withstand a diversity of industrial environments and working conditions.
Oki Electric Cable is proud to serve customers around the world for their electrical cable needs. Our abundant lineup of products can be used in a wide variety of applications. Don’t risk premature damage to your electric grippers as a result of poor cable performance. Contact us today to learn how our electric cable solutions can strengthen and elevate your robotics applications.
In this article, you dived deep into robot grippers and their various applications. You took a closer look at the features of four common types of robot grippers.
Lastly, you considered the importance of choosing the right cable solution for your robot gripper needs.
If you’re looking to select the best electric cable for your robot gripper, then check out our electric cables for a flexible and durable solution. For any questions or to learn more, don’t hesitate to get in touch.